Sunday evening, I received a text message from a number I did not recognize. It read: "Ur book sucked btw u measly little faggot f---! [ed: the original used the full, vulgar word that we prefer not to reprint.] I despise u and all that u stand for! VOMIT!" Having just returned from seeing "Julie & Julia" at the movies, I looked up from this startling message, turned to my St. Bernard, Ambrose, who happened to be standing there and said, "Tres charmant!" Thirty minutes later, a second, similar message came, this time accusing me of being a carpetbagger.
The experience of having your privacy invaded is never pleasant. Neither is dealing with cowards, which is the word I have always applied to those who make a charge anonymously. Cowardly and, in this instance, creepy, because someone had to make an effort to get my cellphone number. As for the criticism of my book, I prefer the judgment of the Religion BookLine at Publisher’s Weekly which gave it a starred review.
It seems that some conservatives in America are unhinged in a way I find difficult to recall. (Yes, I am assuming no liberal would take issue with "all I stand for.") To be clear, there are thoughtful conservatives who quite rightly raise questions about the policies being pursued by the Obama administration, many of which I have defended in these pages and which I foretold in my book. You should always read anything that Peter Berkowitz writes, for example. You will not always agree with him, but you will always learn something from him. Ross Douthat and Michael Gerson are always a good read.
Then there are the modern day Robespierres who show up to events with the President carrying a firearm. Last week, a man stood outside a hall in Portsmouth, N.H. with a handgun strapped to his leg and a sign that read "Time to water the tree of liberty!" Yesterday, in Phoenix, a man showed up to the venue where the President was about to give a speech carrying an assault weapon. They say that they merely are exercising their Second Amendment rights, and so they are. But, that does not really answer the question: Why show up at an event with the President with an assault rifle? Surely, the intent is to intimidate, to frighten. I certainly got frightened looking at the man in Phoenix: Even if he had no malicious intent, and was fully trained in firearm safety, what if someone crazy knocks him over the head and takes the weapon?
I do not mean to equate my cell phone incident with the chilling sight in Phoenix, although curiously, the man with the gun also refused to provide his name. Cowards can carry big guns too I guess. But, surely, the desire to harass and intimidate is the same, and it is a desire that emerges only from the heart of someone who has lost their love for democracy which depends upon disagreement and discussion and debate for its health.
The love of democracy also should keep anyone who is intellectually honest from simple, or complex, lies. Yet, there is the so-called "American Principles Project" founded by Princeton Professor Robert George, engaging in rank dishonesty about the health care debate. In one posting, intimidation combines with deceit in a video that is, well, unprincipled. Others merely rise to the level of tendentiousness. Professor George, who has produced precisely one significant book in his career, should spend less time trying to advance his political positions and more time doing scholarship. There, unlike the blogosphere, he will have to meet standards of excellence set by his peers. Now, his American Principles Project has about as much credibility as Glenn Beck.
So, here is a challenge to my conservative friends: Police Your Own! I have never paid a dime to see a flick by Michael Moore or Oliver Stone and I have not been shy about calling to account fellow liberals who cross the lines of decency. Thoughtful conservatives need to stand up and, whatever their reservations about the President’s health care proposals, insist that their side puts down the lies, the intimidation and, most especially, the firearms. It is not "charmant." It is dangerous.